A Swedish flag was set alight outside the country’s embassy in Malaysia on Friday as protesters gathered to demand action be taken against cartoonist Lars Vilks and newspapers that published his caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body. Around 200 demonstrators from Muslim groups turned out in Kuala Lumpur to protest the caricatures. The demonstrators handed over a letter of protest to Sweden’s ambassador in Malaysia, Helena Sångeland.
The demonstration ended with the pulling down of the Swedish embassy’s flag, which was then burned.
“It was very surprising and something that we can not tolerate. We have reported the matter to the police,” Sångeland said.
They also burned a picture of Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who made the drawing in 2007.
“We demand that the Swedish government take strong action against the newspapers and against the artist,” said Sabki Yusof, one of the protest leaders from the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. “It’s unacceptable what they did to our prophet.”
Swedish ambassador Helena Sangeland called for more dialogue with Muslims for better mutual understanding but said no action would be taken against the papers. She said she was “very disappointed” that the Swedish flag was burned.
“The Swedish government will not comment nor take any action against media. Freedom of expression is enshrined in our constitution. It is not negotiable,” she told The Associated Press.
“I don’t think Malaysia-Sweden bilateral relations will be affected in any way.”
The demonstrators on Friday carried banners and posters with messages like carrying posters that read “Take some lessons from 9/11!!!” and “We fight for our prophet.”
According to the ambassador the PAS Youth League and several Muslim organizations threatened to boycott Swedish products and demonstrations already several weeks ago.
A smaller demonstration of about 80 people by several dozen protesters outside the embassy also was held last Thursday. At the demonstration Malay right-wing group Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa Malaysia (Perkasa) submitted a protest note to the Swedish Embassy
Its president, Datuk Ibrahim Ali said the protest note was to demand a public apology from Sweden for degrading Islam and Muslims.
“I also consider the newspapers which feature Lars Vilks’ caricature as evil preying on sensitivities of Islam aimed at creating enmity,” he told reporters after delivering the protest note.
Two weeks ago, the Malaysian government acted on the matter. Foreign Minister Anifah Aman asked on March 13th the Swedish government to act against the three newspapers republished caricatures.
“An extremely irresponsible behavior is provocative and offensive in nature,” Anifah Aman said then.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s response was the same answer he gave in 2007, when the drawing was first published: The Swedish media, under the Constitution take independent publishing decisions that the government should not censor.
The issue flared up in early March after Irish police arrested four men and three women suspected of planning to kill Lars Vilks. In 2007, al-Qaida put a bounty of $100,000 (£67,000) on Lars Vilks head, with a 50% bonus if Vilks was “slaughtered like a lamb” by having his throat cut. Another $50,000 was said to have been put on the life of Ulf Johansson, editor-in-chief of Nerikes Allehanda, the local newspaper that printed the cartoon.
The four men and three women, who were detained, were in their mid-20s to late-40s. Ireland’s anti-terrorist special detective unit was involved in the operation. The CIA and the FBI were also involved in the investigation.
Several Swedish newspaper were so outraged by the thwarted plot that they reprinted the drawing in solidarity with the artist and the newspaper that published the drawing.
Vilks has said he made the caricature to show that artistic freedom allows mockery of all religions. Several newspapers reprinted the caricature earlier this month when an alleged plot to murder the cartoonist was disclosed.
The controversy over cartoons depicting Muhammad began in 2005, when the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten printed 12 caricatures of the prophet after a children’s author said he could not
find an illustrator for his book on the life of Muhammad.
The drawings sparked violent protests across the Muslim world, culminating with the burning of the Danish embassy in Damascus and its consulate in Beirut in February 2006.
Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
Among the countries in South East Asia, it is only in Malaysia where the matter has resulted in public demonstrations.
The video of the burning of the flag on Friday below is from YouTube